Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: The Bone Clocks

I love it when I find other bloggers who tend to like the same kinds of books that I like. I always look forward to their recommendations and plan much of my to-be-read list based on suggestions gleaned from other book review bloggers I trust. Therefore, I had high hopes for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. In her blog review of the book, Catherine, of A Spirited Mind blog, labelled it one of her favorite books from 2014. Alas, there are times when even kindred spirits have vastly different experiences with a book. Sadly, I find I am not a huge fan of this book.

It pulled me in right away with the story of fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes who is running away to join her boyfriend. Her plans are dashed when she finds him with her best friend. She takes off on her own, intending to make her way in the world rather than trudge home like a dog with its tail between its legs. However, soon after her departure, she is called home when her younger brother disappears. Okay, I am thoroughly hooked now. In the background we have the information that Holly hears voices and entertains spectral visitors from time to time and the compelling detail that Holly saw the image of her brother on the very night he supposedly disappeared. So far so good.

The novel is structured in six parts, with Holly's story framing the first and last perspective pieces and four other characters rounding out their perspectives in the middle. I found the shifts to another perspective to be difficult to follow at the outset of each section. Moreover, the section on the author Crispin Hershey felt entirely unnecessary to the development of the story and a bit too much like the author imposing himself into the story (since Crispin is an author who is having a hard time following up on a wildly successful novel and is embittered by the critical reviews his work receives). Even more perplexing, the point-of-view seemed to shift between third person and first person throughout that whole section. For example: "Two bikes are leaning against the lighthouse when Crispin Hershey finally arrives, which displeases him. I dismount, sticky with sweat ..." (the him and the I both refer to Crispin, yet why must his entire section confuse the reader by referring to himself in the third person and then switching back to first person?) Here it occurs within the space of one sentence: "Back in his hotel room on the twenty-ninth floor, Crispin Hershey showers away his sticky day and flumps back onto his snowy bed, clad in boxers and a T-shirt emblazoned with Beckett's 'fail better' quote I was given in Santa Fe." (Grrr!) The only thing I can think is that the author is trying to make a point of this character's inflated view of himself, which leads him to refer to himself frequently in the third person. Crispin's story was tiresome, whiny, and well ... unnecessary to the plot development.

I also failed to be sucked in for the section featuring Hugo Lamb, an unscrupulous Cambridge student who eventually joins the dark side in this tale of good vs. evil. His life intersects with Holly's and his character is indeed pertinent to the story line about the psychic activity going on in Holly's world, but it felt like a window on boys behaving badly (his drunken buddies bring home some women and are shocked to discover that they are prostitutes now expecting exorbitant payment).

To be frank, the further I got into the book, the less I liked it. It was hard to follow and had so much going on that it truly was a puzzle as the front flap of the book asserts: "Rich with character and realms of possibility, The Bone Clocks is a kaleidoscopic novel that begs to be taken apart and put back together." For me, it felt like the novel was just all over the place. Yes, the characters were well-drawn and yes, the story had a beginning, middle, and end, but figuring everything out was more work than I wanted to put in.

I guess it also felt a bit like a gavel to me. The author spent so much time presenting opinions about the world and how it is going and where it is headed. Political perspectives were explored concerning numerous countries and policies. Mankind was portrayed as sucking all the resources dry without really putting anything of value back into the world. In the end, the world decays into a barren wasteland full of bandits. Even though the story returns to Holly Sykes, I didn't care for the resolution.

I'm sure we will have an interesting discussion on the book for our book club gathering. Perhaps the other women in the group feel more in line with Catherine's perspective and see great depths in the novel to plumb and dissect. For me, it was a bit of a let-down, since I had really anticipated enjoying this novel. So many others, like Catherine, gave it rave reviews. Again, the inside flap declares, "An eloquent conjurer of interconnected tales, a genre-bending daredevil, and a master prose stylist, David Mitchell has become one of the leading literary voices of his generation." The Washington Post calls him "the novelist who's been showing us the future of fiction." I guess, I just don't get it. I guess it was simply too deep for me to keep track of and glean anything of value from. Mea culpa.

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